Peter Maguire

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Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Mar­i­juana in Amer­ica by Emily Dufton

Grass Roots:

The Rise and Fall and Rise of Mar­i­juana in Amer­ica by Emily Dufton.

Ba­sic Books, 311 pp., $28.00

One of the few is­sues that many Amer­i­cans can agree on in 2018 is, im­prob­a­bly, mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion. Pot is now le­gal in thirty-three states and Wash­ing­ton, D.C. In April, John Boehner, the for­mer Repub­li­can Speaker of the House, made the rounds of the morn­ing TV talk shows to an­nounce that he now sup­ported de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion. Boehner, a for­mer

Big To­bacco lob­by­ist, had de­clared in 2015 that he was “un­al­ter­ably op­posed” to mak­ing pot le­gal. Now, per­haps hop­ing to cash in on the mar­i­juana “green rush,” he sits on the ad­vi­sory board of Acreage Hold­ings, a New York City–based mar­i­juana startup headed by in­vest­ment bankers. Acreage hopes to be to Big Pot what R. J. Reynolds, Boehner’s other em­ployer, is to Big To­bacco. Acreage’s CEO, Kevin Mur­phy, op­ti­misti­cally pre­dicts a “mas­sive con­sol­i­da­tion in this busi­ness” that will earn his com­pany bil­lions by 2020. Can any­one cor­ner the mar­ket on this plant, which has flour­ished all over the world for thou­sands of years? Those who have spent their en­tire lives man­ag­ing the vari­ables of the mar­i­juana trade are less cer­tain than Mur­phy or Boehner that mo­nop­o­liz­ing the mar­ket is pos­si­ble. They know that the only cer­tainty in this in­dus­try is un­cer­tainty.

Emily Dufton’s timely book Grass Roots: The Rise and Fall and Rise of Mar­i­juana in Amer­ica deftly chron­i­cles the bat­tle over the most pop­u­lar semi-il­le­gal sub­stance in the US. It is a story of rev­o­lu­tion, coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion, pyrrhic vic­to­ries, and, now, crass op­por­tunism. Above all, it is a cau­tion­ary tale about the un­in­tended con­se­quences of my­opic zealotry. Dufton in­ter­weaves a his­tory of 1960s coun­ter­cul­ture with the emer­gence of mar­i­juana ad­vo­cacy groups like the well-known Na­tional Or­ga­ni­za­tion for the Re­form of Mar­i­juana Laws (NORML) and lesser-known ac­tivists. Those who did not live through the 1960s may find it dif­fi­cult to ap­pre­ci­ate just how sub­ver­sive this plant was once thought to be. Be­cause the US gov­ern­ment viewed pot smok­ing as a re­jec­tion of post­war Amer­i­can val­ues, it con­sid­ered the bat­tle against mar­i­juana an im­por­tant front in the cul­ture wars. To the Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion mar­i­juana was not a le­gal or eco­nomic issue—it was a moral one. The pres­i­dent con­sid­ered ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, mar­i­juana, and im­moral­ity “the en­e­mies of strong so­ci­eties” and com­pared them to the “plagues and epi­demics of for­mer years.”

Grass Roots and most schol­arly stud­ies about pot have a large and ex­cus­able blind spot. Much of the his­tory of the Amer­i­can mar­i­juana busi­ness is un­known sim­ply be­cause of its crim­i­nal na­ture. Per­haps the most im­por­tant ac­tivists among those who found what Dufton de­scribes as a “higher call­ing” in the bat­tle over cannabis dur­ing the 1960s were men and women whose deeds spoke louder than their words: the hip­pie smug­glers and clan­des­tine pot farm­ers that Ti­mothy Leary called “prophets,” “right­eous deal­ers,” and “spir­i­tual out­laws.” The Broth­er­hood of Eter­nal Love, based in La­guna Beach, Cal­i­for­nia, was thought to be re­spon­si­ble for putting more hashish, mar­i­juana, and LSD on the Amer­i­can streets than any­one else dur­ing the 1960s. Its mem­bers were unique in the drug trade be­cause they had a vir­tual mo­nop­oly on LSD and hashish and did not ex­ploit their mar­ket ad­van­tage. “We be­lieve that dope is the hope of the hu­man race, it is a way to make people free and happy,” one Broth­er­hood mem­ber ex­plained to the East Village Other in 1969. “Our lives have been saved from the plas­tic night­mare be­cause of dope and we would feel self­ish if we just stayed in our beau­ti­ful utopia.”

It took many years for law enforcement of­fi­cials to re­al­ize that the pot trade was non­hier­ar­chi­cal and disor­ga­nized. Be­cause most of Amer­ica’s mar­i­juana in 1969 came across the south­ern bor­der, the Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion launched a large-scale bor­der crack­down that year called “Op­er­a­tion In­ter­cept.” It suc­ceeded in slow­ing the flow of com­mer­cial mar­i­juana, but it had un­in­tended con­se­quences. It pushed smug­glers fur­ther down the Hip­pie Trail, a mod­ern­day cannabis Silk Road that started in Europe and wound through Morocco, Tur­key, Le­banon, Iran, Afghanistan, Pak­istan, In­dia, Kath­mandu, Nepal, Thai­land, and Laos.

When Congress passed the Com­pre­hen­sive Drug Abuse Preven­tion and Con­trol Act in 1970, it “tem­po­rar­ily” clas­si­fied mar­i­juana—along with heroin, LSD, ec­stasy, and pey­ote—as a Sched­ule 1 drug with “no cur­rently ac­cepted med­i­cal use and a high po­ten­tial for abuse.” “We knew we couldn’t make it il­le­gal to be ei­ther against the war or black,” Pres­i­dent Nixon’s as­sis­tant for do­mes­tic af­fairs, John Ehrlich­man, ad­mit­ted in an in­ter­view, “but by get­ting the pub­lic to as­so­ciate the hip­pies with mar­i­juana and blacks with heroin, and then crim­i­nal­iz­ing both heav­ily, we could dis­rupt those com­mu­ni­ties.”*

The pres­i­dent also set up a bluerib­bon com­mit­tee chaired by Penn­syl­va­nia’s for­mer Repub­li­can gover­nor, Ray Shafer, to con­duct the most ex­haus­tive study of mar­i­juana in Amer­i­can his­tory. Nixon was fu­ri­ous when this two-year study con­cluded that pot was rel­a­tively harm­less and should be le­gal­ized. The gov­ern­ment’s em­pha­sis on mar­i­juana was soon to be re­garded, even by the DEA, as a dis­trac­tion from the real cri­sis: heroin.

Dur­ing Nixon’s first term, while his ad­min­is­tra­tion was ob­sess­ing over pot, the num­ber of heroin ad­dicts in Amer­ica dou­bled. In 1969 the US mil­i­tary cracked down on the use of mar­i­juana by GIs in Viet­nam. By 1970, Viet­nam was flooded with 90 per­cent pure, No. 4, “China White” heroin. In April 1971 a con­gres­sional sub­com­mit­tee con­cluded that heroin use by GIs in Viet­nam had reached “epi­demic pro­por­tions” and that 10 to 15 per­cent of Amer­i­can sol­diers were us­ing the drug. Af­ter Nixon’s res­ig­na­tion in 1974, the Ford ad­min­is­tra­tion soft­ened the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s po­si­tion on cannabis and con­cen­trated on heroin in­stead. Above all, Ford re­jected the idea that drug use could ever be elim­i­nated com­pletely. By the time Jimmy Carter took of­fice in 1977, mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion seemed pos­si­ble and had sup­port in the White House. Carter’s spe­cial as­sis­tant on drug abuse, Dr. Peter Bourne, wanted to de­crim­i­nal­ize pot and shift the gov­ern­ment’s at­ten­tion to heroin. These ef­forts were en­cour­aged by pot lob­by­ists in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., led by NORML’s R. Keith Stroup. But as de­crim­i­nal­iza­tion looked in­creas­ingly likely, there was an ex­plo­sion in un­reg­u­lated an­cil­lary in­dus­tries like the sale of pot para­pher­na­lia, some of it mar­keted to mi­nors. The strong­est sec­tion of Grass Roots is Dufton’s anal­y­sis of the “Nosy Par­ents As­so­ci­a­tions,” which emerged in an At­lanta sub­urb in 1976 af­ter Mar­sha Manatt Schuchard hosted a birth­day party for her thir­teen-year-old daugh­ter. Alarmed by the strange be­hav­ior of the teenage guests, she searched her yard af­ter the party and found mar­i­juana roaches and empty liquor bot­tles. The con­cerned mother formed a par­ents’ group to com­bat the mar­i­juana in­dus­try, which she be­lieved was tar­get­ing un­der­age users.

Rates for ado­les­cent pot smok­ing re­mained high dur­ing the 1970s, and par­ents’ groups spread na­tion­ally. By 1980, the Na­tional Fed­er­a­tion of Par­ents for Drug Free Youth (NFP) had over four hun­dred af­fil­i­ated groups in forty-eight states with the new goal of elim­i­nat­ing all drug use in Amer­ica. Soon politi­cians who sup­ported le­gal­iza­tion re­al­ized that it was a po­lit­i­cal prob­lem. Even Pres­i­dent Carter re­versed his po­si­tion on the issue dur­ing the 1980 elec­tion.

For­mer Cal­i­for­nia gover­nor Ron­ald Rea­gan hated pot with a pas­sion un­seen since Nixon and con­sid­ered the bat­tle against it part of a larger cul­ture war. Dur­ing the cam­paign he said that “lead­ing med­i­cal re­searchers” con­sid­ered mar­i­juana “prob­a­bly the most dan­ger­ous drug in the United States.” Af­ter Rea­gan’s elec­tion, he ap­pointed Carl­ton Turner as his se­nior ad­viser on drug pol­icy. Turner had been in charge of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s mar­i­juana farm at the Univer­sity of Mis­sis­sippi, where he had made it vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to con­duct sci­en­tific re­search that the FDA would ac­cept as “cred­i­ble.” “Stop talk­ing about whether mar­i­juana’s good or bad for you,” Turner ex­plained. “I’m here to tell you it’s bad. The sci­en­tists will tell you they can’t say for sure be­cause as soon as they do they get no more re­search money.” Re­searchers who man­aged to nav­i­gate the gov­ern­ment’s reg­u­la­tions were sup­plied with low-qual­ity, of­ten moldy mar­i­juana leaves and stems, not the flow­ers, which are rich in CBD and THC and con­tain the plant’s medic­i­nal prop­er­ties. The soon-to-be drug czar com­pared pot to “hard-rock mu­sic, torn jeans and sex­ual promis­cu­ity.”

Rea­gan con­sid­ered pot “a gate­way drug” that led users to heroin. First Lady Nancy Rea­gan turned to the issue of drugs to trans­form her im­age from that of a thin-skinned so­cial climber to one of a car­ing par­ent. Grass Roots re­veals how, in­stead of throw­ing her weight be­hind the hugely suc­cess­ful par­ents’ move­ment, she co-opted an Oak­land-born an­tidrug cam­paign called “Just Say No.” Founded by the com­mu­nity ac­tivist Joan Brann, it was orig­i­nally aimed at in­ner-city youth. Just Say No be­came what Dufton de­scribes as “lit­tle more than a na­tional

*Dan Baum, “Le­gal­ize It All,” Harper’s, April 2016.

mer­chan­dis­ing op­por­tu­nity.” Thanks to the first lady, Proc­ter and Gam­ble turned “ado­les­cent drug abuse preven­tion into a mar­ket­ing slo­gan used to sell ev­ery­thing from pa­per tow­els and cake mix to cloth­ing and potato chips.”

Even with ado­les­cent mar­i­juana use drop­ping by 1983, the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion ramped up the war on pot. While the ef­forts against pot suc­ceeded, there were dis­as­trous un­in­tended con­se­quences in the places where they were most suc­cess­ful, be­cause those who could no longer af­ford pot re­placed it with cheaper, more dan­ger­ous drugs like crack and metham­phetamines. Hawai­ian po­lice launched “Op­er­a­tion Green Har­vest” in the late 1970s in an at­tempt to crack down on the ar­chi­pel­ago’s enor­mous cannabis in­dus­try. It quickly mor­phed into a quasi-mil­i­tary cam­paign that used photo map­ping, her­bi­cide-armed he­li­copters, and com­mando cops who de­scended from fast ropes into sug­ar­cane fields and back­yards to con­fis­cate pot plants.

“Green Har­vest” quadru­pled the price of in­dige­nous Hawai­ian strains like Kauai Elec­tric and Puna But­ter, but it also de­stroyed an in­dus­try that gen­er­ated as much rev­enue for the is­lands as su­gar cane or pineapple. It did not slow the de­mand, and soon much of Hawaii’s pot was im­ported from Cal­i­for­nia and Mex­ico, at a much higher price. In a 1989 re­port, Hawai­ian at­tor­ney gen­eral Warren Price prophet­i­cally pre­dicted that “vic­to­ries over the pakalolo [mar­i­juana] in­dus­try would cre­ate a vac­uum that harder drugs could fill.” The drug that filled that void was law enforcement’s worst night­mare: an in­cred­i­bly ad­dic­tive, smok­able form of metham­phetamine called “ice.” By the 1990s, Hawaii was suf­fer­ing from the worst meth epi­demic in Amer­i­can his­tory.

The DEA’s ef­forts against Thai mar­i­juana dur­ing the 1980s, although suc­cess­ful, pro­duced sim­i­lar pyrrhic vic­to­ries. From the mid-1970s through the 1980s, Thai­land was one of the biggest ex­porters of high-qual­ity mar­i­juana to the United States. While Nepalese Tem­ple Balls, Afghan Primo Hash, and Papa Grande’s Coli­tas were valu­able, if you had real Thai sticks, you named the price—con­sumers hap­pily paid ten times more than any­one had ever paid for mar­i­juana be­fore. Dur­ing the 1980s, the US con­vinced the Thai gov­ern­ment to crack down on mar­i­juana. The cam­paigns against Hawai­ian and Thai pot can be counted as two of the few un­equiv­o­cal vic­to­ries in the War on Drugs. But it is dif­fi­cult to say what they ac­tu­ally won, be­cause drug users did not stop us­ing drugs when mar­i­juana be­came scarce and even more ex­pen­sive. Well-off users sim­ply paid much more for mar­i­juana, and those who could no longer af­ford it turned to meth in­stead.

Nei­ther the sup­ply nor the de­mand for mar­i­juana was re­duced. With the Thai ex­porters shut down, Amer­i­can grow­ers eas­ily sup­plied the na­tion. As Roger Warner pointed out in his book The In­vis­i­ble Hand: The Mar­i­juana Busi­ness (1986), un­like heroin and co­caine, “noth­ing seems to con­trol the mar­i­juana trade but the forces of sup­ply and de­mand. The or­ga­ni­za­tions that deal in mar­i­juana are shift­ing and de­cen­tral­ized, nearly al­ways work­ing in ig­no­rance of each other.” Amer­i­can law enforcement of­fi­cers had lit­tle time to chase pot smug­glers and grow­ers. Florida was flooded with co­caine and the vi­o­lence that came with it. This epi­demic trans­formed the Amer­i­can le­gal land­scape and, Dufton con­vinc­ingly ar­gues, ush­ered in a set of racially dis­crim­i­na­tory drug laws.

Prior to the 1980s, pow­dered co­caine was a rich per­son’s drug. Once it was dis­cov­ered that coke could be mixed with bak­ing soda and wa­ter and re­duced over heat to a smok­able solid, the drug spread to the in­ner cities. In­stead of buy­ing a gram of pow­der for $70, users could now buy a highly ad­dic­tive, eas­ily smok­able “rock” of crack for as lit­tle as $5.

The new sen­tenc­ing guide­lines in the Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 were bla­tantly racist. Any­one caught with just five grams of crack faced a manda­tory min­i­mum five-year sen­tence, but it took five hun­dred grams of pow­dered co­caine to re­ceive the same sen­tence. Be­cause whites typ­i­cally snorted pow­der and blacks smoked crack, this dis­tinc­tion re­sulted in the dis­pro­por­tion­ate im­pris­on­ment of black drug users. In three decades, Amer­ica’s prison pop­u­la­tion went from 300,000 in 1970 to two mil­lion in 2000, by far the largest prison pop­u­la­tion of any in­dus­trial na­tion. “By 2000,” Dufton points out, “the Unites States had im­pris­oned a larger per­cent­age of its black pop­u­la­tion than South Africa at the height of apartheid.”

Carl­ton Turner’s forced res­ig­na­tion as drug czar in 1986—af­ter he told a re­porter that “mar­i­juana leads to ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, the break­down of the im­mune sys­tem, and ul­ti­mately, AIDS”—sig­naled the start of the next coun­ter­rev­o­lu­tion. The le­gal­iza­tion move­ment’s new mes­sage that med­i­cal cannabis could be used by adults to com­bat glau­coma and to al­le­vi­ate the symp­toms of AIDS, Dufton points out, “changed the face of mar­i­juana ac­tivism.” Self­less care­givers, like the San Fran­cisco wait­ress Mary Jane Rath­burn, baked and dis­trib­uted mar­i­juana ed­i­bles to AIDS pa­tients, while oth­ers made sure that AIDS and glau­coma pa­tients had ac­cess to cheap mar­i­juana. To deny that mar­i­juana, a well-known ap­petite stim­u­lant, was one of the most ef­fec­tive medicines to counter the “wast­ing syn­drome” that af­flicted AIDS pa­tients now seemed in­hu­mane. Cal­i­for­nia led the way on le­gal­iza­tion in 1996 af­ter the state’s vot­ers passed Propo­si­tion 215, which al­lowed the use of med­i­cal mar­i­juana. A hy­dra­headed, gray-mar­ket in­dus­try emerged from the chaotic le­gal sit­u­a­tion this leg­is­la­tion cre­ated. Be­cause pri­mary care physi­cians feared reper­cus­sions from the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion, many re­fused to rec­om­mend med­i­cal mar­i­juana. Rogue physi­cians stepped in to fill the gap. For a fee, a doc­tor work­ing out­side his or her tra­di­tional med­i­cal job would con­duct a cur­sory con­sul­ta­tion and pre­scribe mar­i­juana. So promis­cu­ously were med­i­cal mar­i­juana cards is­sued that the dis­tinc­tion be­tween le­git­i­mate “med­i­cal” use and recre­ational use dis­ap­peared early on. As David Hol­land, one of the na­tion’s lead­ing mar­i­juana lawyers, ex­plains, the gov­ern­ment’s re­fusal to re­move cannabis from the Sched­ule 1 list has pro­duced a le­gal cri­sis: By per­mit­ting thirty-three states to de­velop both med­i­cal and re­spon­si­ble adult use reg­u­la­tory schemes . . . the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has in­ten­tion­ally and ag­gres­sively un­der­mined the supremacy of fed­eral law which still keeps mar­i­juana in Sched­ule 1 de­spite the ma­jor­ity of the states adopt­ing its med­i­cal and recre­ational use.

The so­lu­tion, Hol­land con­cluded, would be for the Sched­ule 1 des­ig­na­tion to be “changed by Congress or the Courts.”

Dufton could not have pre­dicted what has hap­pened since her book ap­peared last year. Given how rapidly mar­i­juana le­gal­iza­tion has ad­vanced in 2018 alone, the dis­cus­sion of le­gal­iza­tion in Grass Roots al­ready feels dated. For many Amer­i­cans who have spent their lives un­der the pro­hi­bi­tion of pot, the book’s “Les­sons Learned” con­clu­sion is too con­cil­ia­tory. To­day, it is clear that the US gov­ern­ment used mar­i­juana laws to tar­get mi­nori­ties and mem­bers of the coun­ter­cul­ture. Many are not so quick to for­give and for­get while there are still dozens of Amer­i­cans, like the hip­pie smug­gler John Knock and the para­plegic Michael Pel­letier, serv­ing life sen­tences for pot. “Amer­ica is full of hyp­ocrites,” Knock, a non­vi­o­lent, first-time of­fender, told a re­porter days af­ter Pres­i­dent Obama re­jected his re­quest to com­mute the dou­ble life sen­tence plus twenty years, of which he had al­ready served more than twenty years. “We’re sit­ting in here watch­ing as [state af­ter state] le­gal­izes...and there are people in here do­ing life for pot, an ac­cepted recre­ational and med­i­cal drug in the ma­jor­ity of the states in Amer­ica.”

With the war on pot wind­ing down, even in Cal­i­for­nia, the state with the long­est and deep­est re­la­tion­ship with mar­i­juana, there is no con­sen­sus on the fu­ture of the in­dus­try. World-class mar­i­juana has been grown in Santa Bar­bara since the 1970s, and hun­dreds of tons of Thai pot were off­loaded at pri­vate coastal ranches there and on Cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia’s “Lost Coast” dur­ing the 1970s and 1980s. When smug­gling be­came too risky, smug­glers in­stead be­gan to grow mar­i­juana in the Mediter­ranean mi­cro­cli­mate. For many, the pot trade qui­etly bought them the free­dom to pur­sue their dreams. Now the lines are drawn be­tween in­dige­nous black- and gray­mar­ket grow­ers and ven­ture cap­i­tal­ists from out of state with no links to the il­licit trade. In Cal­i­for­nia, le­gal­iza­tion varies not only from county to county but also from city to city.

The bu­colic sea­side town of Carpin­te­ria, near Santa Bar­bara, once known for flow­ers and av­o­ca­dos, is now known for mar­i­juana. More than forty years ago, Dutch im­mi­grants be­gan to grow flow­ers there and be­came pi­o­neers in hy­dro­ponic green­house farm­ing. So much pot is grown in the town’s 280 acres of green­houses that dur­ing cer­tain times of year, you can smell the plant’s skunk-like odor in the heart of down­town. Vis­i­tors drawn to this small surf town do not al­ways come in peace. In De­cem­ber 2017 thieves cut across an avocado farm in order to rob the ad­ja­cent mar­i­juana-filled green­house. For the avocado farmer, this was the third time his prop­erty had been so

Teenagers smok­ing pot, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, 1979

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